11 Design Thinking Frameworks

Design thinking is an iterative, non-linear design methodology that is particularly useful in solving complex or poorly defined problems.



Understanding design thinking 

Many informed individuals consider design thinking to be the holy grail of innovation and by extension, the cure for company stagnation.

In fact, design thinking has been credited with turning Airbnb from an ailing start-up into a billion-dollar business.

Apple, Uber, and the countless new companies they inspired also owe much of their success to innovation.

Despite its obvious association with success, however, innovation remains a somewhat esoteric concept.

The origins of design thinking can be traced back to the work of John E. Arnold in 1959.

Arnold, a Stanford University engineering professor, taught engineers to approach problems as creatively as designers do.

However, design thinking did not enter the world of business until 2005 when Stanford began teaching it as a means of technical and social innovation.

Today, design thinking is both an ideology and a process that endeavors to solve complex problems in a user-centric fashion. Generated solutions must be:

Technically feasible

Is the solution able to be turned into functional products and processes in the near future?

Economically viable

Can the organization afford to implement the solution as part of a sustainable business model

Desirable for the user

Does the solution meet a real human need? Is it for the people?

The five stages of the design thinking process

The design thinking process outlines five steps that help the team adopt a designer’s mindset and approach a problem from the user’s perspective.

The five steps of the design thinking process include:


In the first step, it is important to observe and engage with the target audience.

Who are the end-users and what are the challenges they face? What expectations and needs must be met?

Empathy is built by conducting interviews, surveys, and observation sessions.


Based on the information gathered in the first step, define a clear problem statement that details the specific problem to be addressed.

A good problem statement is human-centric and prioritizes user needs above all else.

The statement also guides the rest of the process and helps the business keep the user in mind at all times.



With the problem made clear, brainstorm ways to address unmet needs by identifying novel solutions and approaching the problem from a different perspective.

Ideation should be done quickly using any number of different brainstorming frameworks.

Here, the idea is to generate as many ideas as possible with less regard for how feasible the idea may be in reality.

The team should then collaboratively discuss and evaluate each idea ready for the next step.


A prototype is a sample version or simulation of a product that is used to evaluate a process or concept. The intention of creating a prototype is to test and validate ideas before they are communicated to stakeholders and ultimately, the product development team. Prototypes can be as simple as a storyboard sketch drawn on paper that captures the user experience or as detailed as a full-scale mock-up.

The team should then create tangible products or prototypes of the concept ideas they want to test.

A tangible product is something that can be tested by users and is crucial in maintaining a user-centric approach.

Prototypes are basic representations of the intended solution and can take the form of simple paper models or more complex digital products.


Business experiments help entrepreneurs test their hypotheses. Rather than define the problem by making too many hypotheses, a digital entrepreneur can formulate a few assumptions, design experiments, and check them against the actions of potential customers. Once measured, the impact, the entrepreneur, will be closer to define the problem.

The prototype must then be tested and improved via user feedback.

Though this is the final step in design thinking, it is an iterative process where the problem is often redefined multiple times to develop a deeper understanding and empathy for the customer.

The team should then revisit the problem statement and ensure the solution is meeting user needs or addressing frustrations.

Key takeaways

  • Design thinking is an iterative, non-linear design methodology that is particularly useful in solving complex or poorly defined problems.
  • Design thinking is an ideology and a process that endeavors to solve complex problems in a user-centric fashion. Solutions must be technically feasible, economically viable, and desirable from the point of view of the user.
  • Design thinking occurs via five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Teams should cycle through the fifth step until they arrive at a solution that addresses the original problem statement.

Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.

Jobs-to-be Done

The jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework defines, categorizes, captures, and organizes consumer needs. The jobs-to-be-done framework is based on the premise that consumers buy products and services to get jobs done. While products tend to come and go, the consumer need to get jobs done endures indefinitely. This theory was popularized by Tony Ulwick, who also detailed his book Jobs To Be Done: Theory to Practice.

Business Model Canvas

The business model canvas is a framework proposed by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur in Busines Model Generation enabling the design of business models through nine building blocks comprising: key partners, key activities, value propositions, customer relationships, customer segments, critical resources, channels, cost structure, and revenue streams.

Lean Startup Canvas

The lean startup canvas is an adaptation by Ash Maurya of the business model canvas by Alexander Osterwalder, which adds a layer that focuses on problems, solutions, key metrics, unfair advantage based, and a unique value proposition. Thus, starting from mastering the problem rather than the solution.

Blitzscaling Canvas

The Blitzscaling business model canvas is a model based on the concept of Blitzscaling, which is a particular process of massive growth under uncertainty, and that prioritizes speed over efficiency and focuses on market domination to create a first-scaler advantage in a scenario of uncertainty.

VTDF Framework

A tech business model is made of four main components: value model (value propositions, mission, vision), technological model (R&D management), distribution model (sales and marketing organizational structure), and financial model (revenue modeling, cost structure, profitability and cash generation/management). Those elements coming together can serve as the basis to build a solid tech business model.

UI Design Pattern

Design patterns were originally used in architecture and programming to optimize solutions known to work within specific contexts. Solutions occurring frequently enough then morphed into formulas that could be reused as necessary. Some of the design patterns people encounter daily include apps with tab bars, websites with top navigation, and login screens with two input fields and a submit button.  User interface (UI) design patterns are proven and reusable solutions to commonly occurring user interface problems.

Business Scaling

Business scaling is the process of transformation of a business as the product is validated by wider and wider market segments. Business scaling is about creating traction for a product that fits a small market segment. As the product is validated it becomes critical to build a viable business model. And as the product is offered at wider and wider market segments, it’s important to align product, business model, and organizational design, to enable wider and wider scale.

Design Strategy

Design strategy is a framework applying the tactical thinking of a business strategy to the needs of the user to create the most effective products and services.

Business Process Re-engineering

Business Process Reengineering became popular in the 1990s after the publishing of a Harvard Business School article titled Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate. Business Process Reengineering (BPR) describes the redesign of core business processes to improve productivity, quality, cost reduction, or cycle times.

Design Sprint

A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.

Main Free Guides:

About The Author

Scroll to Top